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Chicago teachers win beneficial contract
On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers’ Union House of Delegates voted to end its two-week strike and accept the contract negotiated between union leaders and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. By reclaiming control over their contracts and their schools, the teachers took a step against privatization of public education advocated by President Obama and Emanuel, his former Chief of Staff. Their contract includes features which will improve the educational experience for Chicago students by reinvesting teachers with control over their own classrooms.
The most common talking point against the striking teachers was the $76,000 average Chicago Public School teacher’s salary (the median CPS teacher’s salary is $68,000). However, competitive compensation is crucial to attracting and maintaining a strong base of experienced teachers. The new contract guarantees a three percent pay increase the first year, with two percent increases the next two years. This scheme also includes a huge victory for the teachers—no merit pay.
Teachers need to be accountable, but their pay should not be tied to test scores when the body of evidence suggests that standardized tests are an extremely unreliable method of evaluation. A far better approach would rely on peer review and classroom observation. This would deliver the necessary accountability, while giving teachers the freedom to broaden their curricula and focus on more than just the test. Under this contract, standardized tests count for 30 percent of a teacher’s total evaluation.
Chicago’s poor fiscal situation does not justify underfunded schools. Chicago, like many cities, needs to reduce its deficit, but that reduction shouldn’t come on the backs of teachers and a school system that serves some of the nation’s most disadvantaged children. There is a vast discrepancy in per-student spending between CPS and suburban schools. This inequity should not be addressed by refusing teacher raises or neglecting to hire much needed support staff like counselors and nurses. Rather, Chicago should stop diverting funds ($43 million in 2004) away from schools to developers, in the form of programs intended to encourage private economic development.
One feature of the contract that Mayor Emanuel is touting as a victory is the expansion of the school day. Fortunately, this contract provides for more arts and physical education faculty, to accommodate for the longer school day and year—all welcome improvements
The CTU under President Karen Lewis is an incredibly democratic institution. The union, its contract negotiation, and the attendant strike all provide a model for sound education reform that empowers teachers to gain the experience they need to most effectively educate students. Issues like funding and class sizes remain to be improved, but this contract is a laudable first step.